It’s the 100th anniversary of Rotary in BC. The Rotary Club of Nelson — chartered in 1922 and the Rotary Club of Nelson Daybreak, chartered in 1993 — will share the joy of Rotary Week in BC by hosting an open house on April 19 and a fun run on April 20. The following is a story that is included in a special print section of Wednesday’s Nelson Star.
Ask longtime Nelson Rotarian Walt Laurie what the biggest change has been since he joined in 1968 and he replies with one word: “Women.”
For decades, Rotary was only open to men, although it had a women’s auxiliary known as the Rotary Annes. In Nelson, they joined the noon luncheon in any month with a fifth Friday.
Following a series of court challenges in the US in the 1980s, Rotary membership was finally opened to both genders, though it took a while to reach anything close to parity. Some clubs remain exclusively male. (Laurie admits he wasn’t in favour of the change, although he has since accepted it.)
In 1991, Dorothy Cobb became Nelson’s first female Rotarian. Panny Caron was the second and Marg Stacey the third.
Still with the noon club today, Stacey says she didn’t feel like a trailblazer. Her husband Greg was a longtime Rotarian and she’d been a Rotary Anne, so she was welcomed with open arms.
“I knew all these people really well,” she says. “I’d been managing the Capitol Theatre and thought what an opportunity. I used to come here all the time anyways, so there was no transition at all. The guys here were no problem — It wasn’t a huge change, I don’t think.”
More than 20 years later, there are still more men than women, but women have increasingly taken on leadership roles: in 2003-04, Stacey became the first woman to serve as the noon club’s president. Sheila Hart was the first woman president of the Daybreak club in 1997-98.
By the time Susan Wallach joined the noon club in 2004, there were many women, “so it wasn’t really an issue anymore.”
While opening the door to women may have had an impact on individual clubs, Wallach feels Nelson’s has “always been pretty open.”
“A good balance is, I think, really important,” Stacey says. “[The men] do thank us all the time for juicing their organization.”